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Two-Eyed Seeing

What we all can learn from Indigenous perspectives on baseball and learning.

Key points

  • Two-eyed seeing sees the strengths of Indigenous ways with one eye, and, simultanously, the strengths of Western ways with the other.
  • Indigenous students are under-represented in gifted education; Western parents and teachers can benefit from understanding the disconnection.
  • Two-eyed seeing means being alert to a child’s interests, flexible in encouraging them, and matching challenges to their interests and abilities.
Nicole Green/Unsplash
Source: Nicole Green/Unsplash

“Every year, once spring has sprung, my world regains proper proportion because baseball is back. I love the central metaphor of the game—all of us helping each other to make it home. Funny how a game can teach us so much about life.”

This observation by Ojibwe author and journalist Richard Wagamese offers so much of what’s missing from mainstream educational practices. I love baseball, too, and think we would do well to pay better attention to its central metaphor, and focus more on helping each other to make it home.

What Is Two-Eyed Seeing?

I see a link between Wagamese’s thoughts on baseball and the idea of “two-eyed seeing.” Two-eyed seeing is a term coined by Mi'kmaw elder Albert Marshall to refer to seeing the strengths of Indigenous ways with one eye, and simultaneously seeing the strengths of Western ways with the other eye. The expression has been used in research not only with Indigenous people, but also wildlife health, medicine, and diverse other areas. It seems to me that Wagamese’s comment about the central metaphor of baseball being to help each other get home is a great example of two-eyed seeing. He’s seeing the Western sport of baseball from a collaborative Indigenous point of view, and meshing them beautifully.

What Is the Indigenous Experience of Gifted Education?

In Being Smart about Gifted Learning, Joanne Foster and I talk about two-eyed seeing in its application to gifted education, where Indigenous students are massively under-represented. Marcia Gentry, an expert on this topic, wrote, “A national research agenda focused on gifted/creative/talented Native American students is needed, as this population remains one of the least researched, most overlooked, and most underserved in the field.”

A lot of factors go into the underrepresentation of Indigenous children, including the social and economic challenges too many Indigenous families experience which restricts families’ access to enriched learning opportunities in the early years and beyond. Another factor, however, is the Indigenous perspective on teaching and learning, which is out of sync with so much of what is done in gifted education, where too often kids are categorized as either gifted or not gifted, and only those who make the category are given advanced or enriched learning opportunities.

Gifted education expert Lannie Kanevsky told us that, based on her work with Indigenous educators in British Columbia, “the whole concept of giftedness is not a good fit within their culture.” She also told us, “My efforts with “two-eyed-seeing” have me wrestling with Western notions of giftedness, as there really is no need for them in Indigenous ways of knowing and being.”

Similarly, in a book edited by Bruce Shore and colleagues, award-winning filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin observed that Western approaches to gifted identification and programming are inconsistent with the educational attitudes and values of most Indigenous North Americans. Obamsawin said, “We are gifted and very talented. But you’re not going to find out the way you are asking us your questions.”

What Are the Benefits of a Two-Eyed Approach to Education?

I believe this disconnect may be in the process of being rectified: several Canadian schools are starting to apply Indigenous perspectives to their practices, and finding that these approaches engage all their students, whether Indigenous or otherwise, and lead to higher levels of learning for everyone, and more enjoyment by teachers. Education activist Kelly Gallagher-Mackay and innovative school principal Nancy Steinhauer describe dramatic improvements in student success and teacher satisfaction when schools focus on Indigenous techniques, emphasizing connection, authentic hands-on learning, and problem-solving.

Gallagher-Mackay and Steinhauer write, “Effective learning builds on the strengths of the learner, rather than focusing only on the gaps.” They describe a school in Alberta that has a substantial Indigenous population, where problem behavior leads not to punishment or suspension, but rather a conversation with the principal about the student’s long-term goals, and how school might be made more meaningful for them. Where possible, the student’s suggestions are taken into account in making changes that lead to more relevance and a higher engagement in learning. By working to support each student’s creativity, flexibility, and problem-solving skills, schools like this are nurturing and channeling students’ strengths.

The Indigenous people are highly diverse, and so are their approaches to teaching and learning, but in general, they work to ensure that each child is given the learning opportunities they can most benefit from at any given time. They value flexibility and creativity in responding to each child’s unique and changing interests and abilities, taking into account the complex interacting factors that affect every dimension of their development.

What Does Two-Eyed Seeing Mean for You?

Whether your child is attending school, studying online, being homeschooled, or something else, two-eyed seeing can transform their learning experience. When the focus is on helping each other home, everything shifts. In Being Smart about Gifted Learning, Joanne Foster and I describe the research showing that gifted learning and development starts with someone—a parent, grandparent, aunt, teacher, neighbor, or someone else—listening and observing, with patient and thoughtful attention, helping each child get home to their own interests and abilities.

Be alert to your child’s interests, be flexible in encouraging them, and match challenges to their interests and abilities. In this way, you’re practicing the best of both Indigenous and Western approaches to supporting their optimal development, in a very good example of two-eyed seeing.

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